Commentary Magazine


What Window for Diplomacy?

If both the White House and the entourage of the prime minister of Israel are smart, they’ll keep a tight lid on accounts of the meeting today between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu. That will leave the press to continue speculating on the statements the two men made before the doors were closed. Though, as both were eager to point out, there is much common ground between the two nations’ positions, a number of items of contention remain. Chief of them is President Obama’s assertion that “We do believe there is still a window that allows for a diplomatic resolution to this issue.”

The alternative to diplomacy isn’t pleasant for either country to contemplate, but one is forced to ask on what basis does the administration’s belief in such a window rest? Failing a rational explanation for their point of view, Israelis and others who rightly suspect the Americans’ insistence that their belated support for tough sanctions will lead to a resolution of the Iran problem cloaks a desire to merely kick the can down the road until after the November election.

It’s worth recalling that the belief in diplomacy with Iran is an old story. The Bush administration, smeared as a bunch of wild cowboys who disdained negotiations on every issue in favor of force, outsourced the problem to its European allies whose efforts were a complete flop. Barack Obama came into office believing the force of his personality would be enough to convince the Iranians to back down on their nuclear ambitions. But his “engagement” policy was as much of a bust as that of Bush’s European surrogates. That was followed by two years of Obama’s effort to cobble together an international coalition in favor of “crippling” sanctions that would bring Tehran to its knees. Though Obama is fond of claiming the whole world is with him, the truth is Russia and China have made it clear they will oppose any further sanctions, and Beijing has indicated it will buy Iran’s oil even if the U.S. and the Europeans make good on their threats of a petroleum embargo.

Throughout this period, the Iranians have at times engaged in talks that were supposedly aimed at crafting a compromise that would reportedly make it impossible for them to build a bomb. But every such effort turned out to be a dead end whose only purpose was to drag out the process and allow the Iranians to run out the diplomatic clock, as they got closer to a bomb.

It is true the sanctions are hurting Iran, but there is no reason to believe they are enough to make the ayatollahs fold. That is especially true because Obama’s talk of diplomacy fuels the Iranians’ belief they can continue to play the same shell game with negotiations. Obama’s rhetoric about stopping Iran before it goes nuclear may impress those Americans who are eager to believe in him. It is also encouraging that he has again specifically indicated he will not be content to merely “contain” a nuclear Iran. But any further talk of a “window” for diplomacy will have the opposite effect on Iran that Obama hopes as it will encourage them to believe they can play him for a sucker again.

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